“Dead Man’s Hand” isn’t just a catchy song by noted indie rock band Lord Huron. If you’re an experienced poker player, you may have heard the term thrown around a time or two.
Of course, not everybody is an experienced poker player, and even those with long histories in the game may not be familiar with dead man’s hand.
What is dead man’s hand in poker, and is it really cursed?
What Is Dead Man’s Hand?
Card games are nothing new. You can always find a game at various top online poker sites, but poker is a game that obviously predates the internet. In fact, the first documented games of cards took place hundreds of years ago. Needless to say, there have been quite a few legendary tales stemming from card games over the centuries.
You may have also heard that those that partake in such games may be a bit superstitious. While poker and other card games are games that require some skill, there is still quite a bit of luck involved in the ultimate outcomes. Even the most skilled poker players are at least somewhat superstitious.
That’s where the legend of dead man’s hand comes into play.
Back in the 1800s, a gunslinger by the name of James Butler Hickok was one of the most infamous gunmen in the old west. Hickok earned the nickname “Wild Bill” for his exploits after he was tabbed “Duck Bill” as a child as a result of his large nose and protruding lips.
In addition to his status as a gunslinger, Wild Bill was also a noted gambler that could often be found playing poker at his local saloon in Deadwood.
Unfortunately, that’s where Wild Bill met his end. He was shot and killed by an angry Jack McCall after McCall lost a hand at Wild Bill’s expense. At the time of his murder, Hickok held two pairs: black aces and eights.
The Dead Man’s Hand Curse
As a result of Wild Bill’s death at the poker table, the hand of two pairs with black aces and eights has since become known as the “dead man’s hand.”
Wild Bill was a successful gambler and a highly-respected lawman, and McCall was subsequently tried, convicted, and hanged for the murder.
Of course, it’s worth noting Hickok’s murder occurred in 1876, which is nearly 150 years ago now. There is plenty of debate as to whether that was actually Hickok’s hand of cards at the time of his death, as the first account of it didn’t surface until a book was released 50 years later.
Regardless, the legend lives on. Hickok was playing five-card stud at the time, and the all-black hand of two aces and two eights has since earned the permanent “dead man’s hand” moniker.
There is actually now a casino called Saloon 101 at the site where Hickok was killed all those years ago. The casino features an exhibit detailing the legend of dead man’s hand, and the supposed curse with which it is now associated.
Is Dead Man’s Hand Really Cursed?
So, is dead man’s hand really cursed?
Despite the urban legend associating the hand to Wild Bill’s untimely death, it’s safe to say the curse aspect is something that doesn’t actually exist. In fact, you’re doing pretty well for yourself if you find yourself with a hand featuring a pair of aces and a pair of eights.
Unless you do something you’re not supposed to, you’re unlikely to be killed as a result of drawing the famed dead man’s hand. In fact, the lack of evidence that those were Wild Bill’s cards should be enough for you to throw the entire notion of a curse out the window.
At this point, it’s highly unlikely the mystery surrounding the validity of the dead man’s hand will ever be solved. But poker players everywhere can rest easy. This is one curse that simply does not exist.